Fake Pro-Trump and Pro-Biden X Accounts Rise x10 in Two Months

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As the November 2024 U.S. elections approach, cybersecurity specialists and government agencies working to safeguard democracy and its processes are monitoring disinformation and fake news.

From domestic extreme far-right groups pushing conspiracy theories to election interference campaigns run by Russia, China, or Iran, Americans are familiar with the impacts of fake news and misleading narratives.

But this new presidential run is the first to be threatened by new technologies like generative AI.

Key Takeaways

  • Cybersecurity specialists are focusing on and warning about disinformation and fake news as the U.S. elections approach.
  • Fake accounts on the platform X are proliferating, with 15% of accounts praising Trump being fake.
  • Generative AI is a new threat in this election, making it easier to create fake content at scale.
  • Social media bots amplify content, dominate discussions, and create the illusion of consensus.
  • Voters can combat misinformation by verifying sources, thinking critically, and reporting suspicious accounts.

Study Shows Fake U.S. Election-Related X Accounts Are Proliferating

On May 24, Reuters reported that fake accounts posting about the U.S. presidential election are proliferating on the social media platform X. Analysts from Israeli tech company Cyabra, which uses machine learning models to identify fake accounts, found that 15% of X accounts praising former President Donald Trump and criticizing President Joe Biden are fake.

Cyabra’s study on X began on March 1 and ended two months later. The review included analyzing popular hashtags and determining sentiment in terms of whether posts are positive, negative, or neutral.

Researchers found that fake accounts on the social media platform increased up to tenfold during March and April.

The report cites 12,391 inauthentic pro-Trump profiles out of 94,363 total and 803 inauthentic pro-Biden profiles out of 10,065 total.

A Coordinated Attack with “Nefarious” Objective

Researchers from Cyabra concluded that the fake accounts are not isolated incidents but part of a coordinated campaign. Signs of this include fake accounts posting at the same time and the synchronized use of bots. Cyabra’s vice president, Rafi Mendelsohn, spoke about the conclusions in a press release.

“The level of coordination suggests that there is a nefarious objective and that there is a whole operation in order to change people’s opinion.”

Who is Behind the Fake Social Media U.S. Election Attacks?

Jeffrey Brown, Customer Security Officer and cyber advisor at Microsoft, Faculty at IANS Research, and former CISO of the State of Connecticut spoke to Techopedia about who is behind these fake U.S. election social media attacks.

“Common threat actors typically include foreign governments, political operatives, and even domestic groups with political agendas. Sometimes, private entities are hired to create and manage fake accounts to obscure the tracks of the real campaign sponsors.”

Brown added that ideologically motivated groups may volunteer or be financially incentivized to participate as well.

Crystal Morin, cybersecurity Strategist at Sysdig, a cloud security company recognized as the Google Cloud Technology Partner of the Year 2024, also told Techopedia about the actors behind fake accounts.

“Political allies on the left and right have a vested interest in their candidate winning,” Morin said.

“The continued proliferation of inauthentic social media profiles and AI-generated deep fakes should come as no surprise, especially when you consider how effective they’ve been in swaying public discourse over the last few election cycles.”

Social media platforms have been under greater scrutiny since 2016, when Russia interfered in the U.S. presidential election.

“Foreign adversaries also stand to benefit from political discord,” Morin said. “While some may benefit from the election of one candidate over another due to their foreign policy positions, others are simply focused on sowing American chaos.”

Social Media Bots and Gen AI: Technologies Driving Fake Social Media Narratives

Bots have been at the center of the real value of a social media platform for years. Cloudflare says that while X (Twitter) executives have testified before Congress that 5% of all the platform’s accounts are bots, that number is likely closer to 15%. 

Other social media accounts are likely to have the same amount of fake bots. In Twitter alone, this number would translate to about 48 million accounts. Fake election bots have caught the eye of top intelligence agencies in the U.S. for some time now.

Homeland Security, through CISA, explains that there are many different types of social media bots — some push ads, others scrape for info, and some are malicious in nature. These are likely to increase.

“Recent elections in 2016 and 2017, in the United States, United Kingdom, France, and Germany, have drawn a spotlight on the nefarious activity of Social Media Bots.”

Advanced Bots: Operations, Targets, and Impacts

Brown from Microsoft and IANS Research explained that bots can boost political campaigns through several mechanisms, whether it be amplifying content by liking, retweeting, sharing content to increase its visibility, or creating the appearance of both popularity and validity.

“Bots can flood conversations by posting large volumes of content, dominating the discussion, and creating the illusion of popular consensus.”

Fake news generated by bots is also a direct target to budgets and resources by pushing malicious narratives. “They (bots) distract from more important issues by introducing irrelevant or inflammatory topics.”

Modern advanced bots can even engage with users by replying to comments, asking leading questions, or supporting specific viewpoints, potentially persuading real users to adopt specific views, Brown added.

“It’s not always clear if a user is real or a bot, and it does take some training to know the difference.”

On April 4, Elon Musk said through an X post that a “system purge of bots & trolls underway” in the platform. Other than the October 2023 Not a Bot X program — tested only in New Zealand and the Philippines to combat spam and bots — the company has made little progress toward a more robust anti-bot policy and enforcement.

U.S. Elections At the Speed of AI

GenAI is being used for social media auto-creation of posts, self-posting, automatic engagement with users, and much more. While this proves to be beneficial for content creators or marketing, it is a resource that malicious actors are learning to master.

Morin from Sysdig spoke about how AI changes the rules and the game field completely.

“We’re now moving at the speed of AI. This should be a cause for concern for all social media companies and their task forces.”

Generative AI and large language models (LLMs) have simplified the creation and iteration of text, voice, and images. Morin explained that for example, users can input a sentiment and ask AI to create 100 unique tweets they can then post from 100 unique accounts.

“GenAI unlocks a level of speed and scale that makes social media misinformation a tedious task instead of a laborious operation.”

What Should American Voters Do?

Confronted with the new reality — where facts and fiction live side by side making it every day more difficult for anyone to tell which is which — Americans may feel overwhelmed by forces that are beyond their control. However, there is still much they can do, in fact they could be the final solution to the problem.

Brown told Techopedia that voters and U.S. citizens can take several steps to protect themselves from misinformation and mitigate the impact of coordinated fake accounts and bots in political campaigns.

“Start by verifying sources and checking for credibility from verified accounts or reputable news outlets. Use critical thinking and be skeptical of sensationalist or emotionally charged content.”

The Bottom Line

Americans can also take a more active active role by actively reporting fake accounts or suspicions.

“This helps reduce the spread of misinformation and posts that might be inauthentic, inflammatory, or misleading,” Morris said.

Morin added that as with all problems of misinformation, awareness is the single most important tool with which people can equip themselves.

Being informed is just as essential as diversifying the sources of information — this means making sure you do not get news from just one media outlet.

U.S. citizens may hold the key and final solution to this social media fake news rampage. As Morin said, they can make real strides and verify their social media news with trusted sources — independent, noteworthy outlets and the candidates’ platforms themselves.

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